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Niall: Every team in the same boat

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Selector Niall Corcoran with Laois manager Eddie Brennan (right)

Selector Niall Corcoran with Laois manager Eddie Brennan (right)

SPORTSFILE

Selector Niall Corcoran with Laois manager Eddie Brennan (right)

This was meant to be a big summer for the Laois hurlers. Big in a daunting kind of way.

Back among the heavyweights. Hoping to learn fast and survive in the rarefied upper atmosphere of the Liam MacCarthy, week after gruelling week.

And it might still be… but Laois coach Niall Corcoran doesn't even know if there will be time for a round-robin format whenever the Leinster SHC gets under way.

Covid-19 doesn't recognise boundaries. It certainly doesn't abide by sporting calendars or Croke Park competition regulations.

"It's just so unprecedented. It's so strange," says the former Dublin corner-back, now a key member of Eddie Brennan's management team in Laois.

"There's no collective sessions. When this happened first, the initial thing has to be you ensure everybody stays safe. Everybody follows the HSE guidelines. And everybody follows protocol.

"And then you're kind of thinking, what happens if the championship goes back and we've two weeks to prepare? You're thinking of all sorts of scenarios in your head, and how well prepared are we?

Controllables

"I guess all you can do is control the controllables. From that perspective, no inter-county team is meeting collectively or in small groups so all we can do is give players individual work to do from a conditioning point of view, from a hurling point of view, and check in with them and see how they're doing.

"You're handing that responsibility over to the players with the hope that, when the season does come back into play, we are as prepared as we can be.

"I guess the only consolation is every team is in the same boat. Maybe that's a leveller in a sense.

"But it will be interesting to see what the make-up of the championship will look like."

Officially, Laois are still scheduled to host Galway on Saturday, May 9, before travelling to Kilkenny a week later.

But as Corcoran admits: "If this goes on for another two-three months, it's very, very hard to see a round-robin situation come into play.

"Will we have enough weekends to play those games off? If you're looking at the majority of players, I'm sure from a GAA perspective the priority has to be on the club."

Corcoran knows, better than most, how the coronavirus is wreaking havoc at the club coalface.

Now 37, the Galway native is still very much a player with his adopted Kilmacud Crokes, albeit he had yet to tog out this season. Now he's not sure when he'll get the chance.

Moreover, as a Dublin GAA Games Promotion Officer (or GPO) overseeing small ball in Kilmacud, he literally lives, breathes and works hurling.

Instead of visiting the local schools or 'coaching' the club coaches, Corcoran (left, in his days with Dublin) is stuck behind a desk.

"In fairness to Dublin GAA, they've been very, very good - very proactive," he reveals.

"We've already had a couple of Zoom call meetings with our regional development officer. They've put a plan of work in place for us over the next few weeks.

"At the moment, it's been getting some of the senior players - camogie players and hurlers - to put skill challenges together and get them out on Twitter and into our juvenile coaches, to promote self-practice at home.

"More than anything else, to give the children something to do - we're hearing from parents boredom is setting in. There's a lot of isolation in terms of children not being able to see friends, so it's about keeping them engaged.

"Also, it gives me a chance to reassess where we are in the club… to catch up on putting together session plans for coaches.

"We're doing a project at the moment with the 13-to-18 group, and we're hoping to have some coaches' webinars over the next few weeks - again, just to keep the show on the road for when we do go back.

"But definitely it's a different feeling. You're working from home, whereas at this time of day I'd usually be in school. It is different. But I guess, like every person, you have to try and adapt."

Perspective

You also must place the current GAA shutdown in perspective.

"The safety of the nation has to come first," Corcoran stresses. "Especially people with underlying medical conditions and elderly. If they get this virus, there's no way of telling whether they can overcome it or not. So, we have to make sure we're all playing our part.

"You listen to people in the last few weeks, and they mention the importance of what sport brings to our lives and I completely agree with that.

"But at the same time there are people out there losing their jobs; people who might lose their business; there's students who might not get to finish college; young Leaving Certs who don't know if exams are going to happen or not. So, there are bigger problems that people are facing.

"It is a strange time. I guess the real unsettling thing is the whole uncertainty… there is no deadline or there is no target for when this will finish and when things will go back to normality."

The one consolation is that, whatever transpires in this disrupted inter-county season, Laois will have another shot at the big time in 2021.

The recent Congress decision, expanding the Leinster SHC to six teams, has removed the spectre of instant demotion back to the Joe McDonagh Cup.

"Look, I've no doubt that the Laois guys are good enough to compete at that level. But it's about acclimatising," their coach outlines.

"The change at Congress, for Leinster to go to six teams, is a huge advantage and a huge help for teams like Laois who get that year to acclimatise."